Doyle Brunson was on the receiving end of a loaded death threat from infamous Vegas mobster Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, and lived to tell the tale.
The 88-year-old Brunson, who has had a legendary career as a professional poker player for over five decades, was profiled by Joe Levin in Texas Monthly as the World Series of Poker heads toward its main event in July.
As the story goes, Brunson’s connection to Benny Binion, who along with his son Jack founded the World Series of Poker at their casino in downtown Las Vegas in 1970, helped him ward off the threat.
Benny Binion was a mob boss in Brunson’s native Texas before creating a new life as a casino proprietor out in Vegas.
Spilotro, who was the inspiration for Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro character in Martin Scorcese’s “Casino,” and was reputed to be responsible for more than 20 murders, reportedly sought a 25 percent cut of Brunson’s poker winnings.
Why, Brunson wanted to know, was Spilotro entitled to that?
“If you don’t like it, I’ll stick twelve ice picks in that big fat gut of yours,” Spilotro allegedly told Brunson.
“You can’t kill everyone,” Brunson is said to have ultimately told the mobster.
Spilotro responded: “I won’t have to kill everyone. Just the first one.”
The profile of Brunson describes a man who has cheated death but whose success at the poker table is attributable to a combination of a preternatural skill at reading people, plus a brain that was able to tabulate card odds through intense repetition before it was fashionable to use computers to do it.
Brunson was the champion of the World Series of Poker in 1976 and 1977, famously winning the final hand of both tournaments from the starting hand of 2-10.
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